During the first week of November, 1988, I toured the Gettysburg battlefield. I didn’t see any ghosts or hear any voices. I did feel my hair standing straight up. I did feel a presence, as though I were walking through a crowd of people. I felt the gut tightened alertness that I hadn’t felt since I left Southeast Asia over thirteen years before. I felt thirst as though I was getting on a chopper in sweat soaked jungle fatigues.
I think that if I had been taken to the middle of the battlefield, blindfolded and unable to hear, and with no knowledge of my location, that I would have felt the same.
In three days in July, 1863, approximately 50,000 Americans were killed in action. Others died later from wounds received in the battle. To put this in perspective, this is approximately 80 percent of the deaths we suffered during the 10 years of the Vietnam conflict. This is 10 times the number of killed in action, we have suffered fighting the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The repercussions of those 3 days are still felt. William Faulkner, in his work Intruder in the Dust, expressed it best: